The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner
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Index 56 reviews in total 

44 out of 46 people found the following review useful:

Between the 50s and 60s...

8/10
Author: Quag7 from Tucson, AZ
1 March 2002

I caught this film late at night on cable, and it is the first movie I've seen with Tom Courtenay in it, who is excellent (Either by coincidence or design, King Rat was on only a few nights later).

I'd never heard of this film before, but I was immediately transfixed by its look; something here is remarkable about the way black and white is used to further the overall feel and design of the film.

Having never been to the UK, I don't have a really good sense of how time passes there; to an American, England appears to age barely at all as seen through the cinema. But the themes here and the use of silence and the overall look of the film convey a society in the midst of change; as much as there is here that reminds one of the 1950s, there is an overwhelming 60s theme here about conformity and authority and society which is inescapable. I found myself cheering a bit at the end in the same way I cheered for Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke; here, as in that film, is the story of an individual who refused to be "broken."

I'd definitely rate this film as a key 1960s film, black and white, and yet thoroughly modern and not at all dated. A lot of care was put into this film from the performances to the camerawork, and while it is not something that would keep you on the edge of your seat, it is certainly a compelling story, compellingly told.

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29 out of 31 people found the following review useful:

Looking on with a lot of anger.

9/10
Author: whisperingtree from whisperingtree
9 July 2000

The rise of the 'angry young man' in British cinema took an interesting twist in this gritty drama. Set initially in Nottingham, Smith and his mate played by a very young James Bolam are nicked for petty theft. Sent to a borstal his athletic prowess is seized on by the Head to be mobilised in the name of the institution. Michael Redgrave's superb creation combines the stiff Britishness with a surpressed and unfulfillable desire to reform and change. This opposition creates a man at odds with his position. On the one hands he trusts and on the other he is petty and weak. Courtney's runner defines the struggle of the period between the decaying class system and the consumer led rise of the working class. His desire to run his own race, to lose because he won't win to justify Redgrave's ideology portrays that essentially English state of mind that it is better to fail than to succeed as long as you have chosen to fail. A wonderful film.

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31 out of 35 people found the following review useful:

The Loveliness of the Black & White Cinema

8/10
Author: givnaw from Minnesota, USA
2 October 2002

Rambling thoughts: A very good movie, really capturing the sense of futility of lower class British existence. The desolate beauty of gray, cold and damp England comes through in wonderful ranges of color; despite being a black and white film, there is a huge variety of tone in the photography. You can almost smell the wet leaves of the forests and hills, and feel the cold of the morning air as you follow the runners on their daily jogs. England's rich heritage of distance running makes it an apt subject. Distance running, which I do enjoy myself, is primarily a solitary activity, designed for bona-fide introverts, "angry young men", obsessive individuals who do not mind pain, and in some cases, may actually enjoy it. England, with its crummy weather, economy, history and hugely varied terrain, is particularly well-suited to the sport. Courtenay is a treasure; we are so fortunate to still have him around. It is a wonder to gaze upon his youthful gauntness, and then to see how his appearance has evolved over the years. Really sharp viewers will be able to spot a very young Inspector Morse, John Thaw, as one of the young inmates.

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26 out of 28 people found the following review useful:

A magnificent unappreciated film

Author: carloi-1 from Scottsdale, Arizona (USA)
9 August 2002

I recently watched this movie again on TV. The wonderful performances by Tom

Courtenay and Michael Redgrave have not diminished with time. The movie is

also full of technical innovations at the time. One of these is common today, a fast switching between the two time frames of the story. The life of the hero in a quasi-prison and the family life that led to his capture and conviction. The movie also predates the current of "Angry Young Men" that was to be so prolific in

British Cinema. Others have remarked on the wondrous scenes of Courtenay

running in open countryside as he trains for a long distance competition. The accompaniment of a jazz trumpet also fit well. But to me the core of the movie is the rage of the hero towards the "establishment" beautifully symbolized by

Michael Redgrave's Headmaster. Don't miss this movie if you have a chance.

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30 out of 36 people found the following review useful:

British cinema at it's best

10/10
Author: the_monk from Huddersfield, England
14 June 2001

Ahh Mother,why oh why oh why oh why, don't they make them like they used to? Forget your Guy Richie crime capers,'Loneliness of the long distance runner' is British cinema at its best. I can't explain why I love this film (erm so why I am I here?), whenever I try to explain the plot to friends they look perplexed as to why the film should be so good. Tom Courtenay is in his element in his portrayal as the 'loveable rogue'. Has 'Jerusalem' ever been more poignantly sung as it has here? Im not urging you to go out and purchase the film, but if you have a spare 90 odd minutes and it comes on television then watch it. Ta.

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21 out of 21 people found the following review useful:

A compelling attack on "the system"

Author: Steven Mears (rmears@worldnet.att.net) from Clifton, Virginia
27 June 2001

A powerful and absorbing commentary on the plight of poor adolescents in working-class British society. The story is told through flashbacks, as a reform school delinquent recalls his troubled home life and the events that drove him to become what he is.

Colin (Tom Courtenay), the rebellious young man, embodies the depths to which one can sink as a result of poverty. When his father dies, he is forced to become the figure of stability in the lives of his abrasive mother and all his siblings. The incessant desire for money, instilled in him by his mother, drives him to rob a bakery. This lands him in reform school, where his aptitude as a long distance runner catches the eye of the school's progressive governor (Michael Redgrave). The governor has resolved that his students must defeat the local public school in a race, and puts Colin in training to represent them.

Running provides Colin with an opportunity to escape his problems, vent his aggressions, and consider his prospects. The governor takes a liking in him and begins giving him special privileges. He is forced to decide if he should continue with his defiant behavior, or instead play by the rules.

Redgrave wisely plays the governor not as a stereotypical prison warden, but as a fair and rational man driven to win. Courtenay's performance is nothing short of brilliant. He captures all the agony of an individual forced to mature before his time, molded by a society which has no use for his kind. Do any of the inmates in the school really reform, or do they all just `play the game' until they are released? This is among the many pertinent questions raised by this key film of its time.

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19 out of 19 people found the following review useful:

Superb 60's drama. Every scene is Courtney's

9/10
Author: Andy Howlett from United Kingdom
22 September 2006

"Where the bloody hell have *you* been?" I'm sure this phrase appears in every black & white British 'kitchen sink' film of the time, usually asked by the exhausted mother or father of their wayward son. Colin Smith is a lad who is on the verge of becoming uncontrollable. Low-level crime and an aversion to authority make him every mother's nightmare. When his father dies and his mother takes up with a slimy fancy-man, Colin gets even worse and rebels. When he is convicted of burglary he is sent to Borstal and expected to bow down to the harsh routine, but his talent for running is spotted by the governor and he is encouraged to train for the inter-school Cup against the local 'posh' school. Will Colin do his duty? The film takes the unusual (for its time) structure of long flashbacks to Colin's home life while he is training. This is very effective and puts life into what could have been a rather dull film. There is one joyous scene in which Colin is first allowed out of the borstal gates to train - the sun is shining, we can almost smell the cool, fresh air and the soundtrack bursts into some glorious jazz trumpet. It's such an uplifting tune and so typical of its period that this film would be worth the price of the DVD just for this moment. Despite the depressing theme and grimy visuals, this film - made at the height of the 'gritty British drama' period of the 60's - is a delight.

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17 out of 19 people found the following review useful:

Absolutely fantastic!

10/10
Author: miriamkgross9 from Canada
12 June 2005

This film... is amazing. This is the only way that I can POSSIBLY describe the brilliant acting performance of Tom Courtenay, one of my all-time favorite actors. His depiction of Colin, a young man from the lower class society of Nottingham, is remarkable. In fact, depiction is quite the wrong word for what he does with that character. Courtenay does not play Colin, he IS Colin, pure and simple. I will not give a summary simply because it is impossible to explain the story line without seeing the film. I have tried to explain the story line to my friends, and they just can't understand why I'm raving about. Anyone who is reading this, WATCH THIS MOVIE! It is one of the best films the '60s has to offer.

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7 out of 7 people found the following review useful:

Black & White rules!

9/10
Author: gingergurl75 from United States
6 October 2006

I saw the last few minutes of this flick on Tyne Tees telly a couple of years after its theater rounds. In that part of England in those days there was only subsequent run at the Odeon, ABC and Majestic and I never got the chance to see it on a big screen. I can always hope.

I also remember the lurid cover on the paperback as it sat on the rack at Boots alongside Brendan Behan's "Borstal Boy." I had to settle for Mickey Spillane or Ian Fleming instead.

The film is far more gritty than Billy Liar, but Courtenay is identical in both roles in that he has to triumph over adversity in both films. In this role he rejects the life of his father which was subservience to the mill in favor of living large, but not very. In short he aspired to be a spiv just to blend in. But he needs to impress a couple of birds too, and that takes money -- and love of money is the root of all evil.

Then he gets a mini-vacation in a castle stolen by Oliver Cromwell and eventually converted to a government-owned barracks to meet the conveniences of World War II. I have never seen the concrete post with barbed wire any other place than England. In this boot camp styled borstal he has to confront his demons and decide just exactly who he wants to be. The Head has an ax to grind with the local school and naively hopes that sports is the way to channel these boys' anger. Should that fail, there are posters plastering the walls touting a man's life in the army. And that's why this film doesn't waste a scene.

Americans watching this film might have some trouble with an almost extinct dialect, but human nature does not change.

Favorite scenes 1) when he burns the pound note and 2) the romp on the dunes at Skegness.

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18 out of 32 people found the following review useful:

Not as relevant as it was but still interesting, well acted and has memorable moments

Author: bob the moo from United Kingdom
3 January 2005

After getting caught robbing a bakery, Colin Smith is sent to Ruxton Towers reformatory as punishment. Working out the system quite quickly, Colin sets out to divert attention from himself, ingratiate himself with the Governor and thus have a better chance of getting an easy ride and being let out early. His background in distance running (and speed at running from the scene of his crimes) bring him to the fore in the athletics competitions and it is not long before Colin is allowed out alone to train. During his long runs Colin has time to think back over his life outside, the fun, the family upbringing and the crimes that landed him inside.

Although it has dated and is not as relevant anymore, this is still an interesting film that looks at the trap of being born into a working class family with limited opportunities and a bleak future ahead of you. The film uses flashbacks well to judge the system without being too obvious – the family background, the small hopes and dreams, the lack of inspiration etc; they all lead Colin into a petty life of crime. The structure works well to keep both threads (in and out) moving ahead well and it is interesting enough. The film also (in my opinion) is pretty fair by showing how those at the bottom of the ladder also must blame themselves for failing to take the chances offered to them – as shown by Colin's possible athletics career. This is a fair comment and helps to prevent this becoming just a rant in defence of the downtrodden classes.

Watching it today sees it lose a lot of its relevance because the class distinction is less evident now that it was then and Colin would be a lot less likable if we were a modern day Chav with a "f*** you" attitude and no education – at least here we are able to feel for him a bit. As it is Courtenay (now Sir Courtenay) plays it very well – Colin is a human, someone we like but also someone trapped in a situation that is partly his own making. Redgrave plays the upperclass Governor very well and we at once are for him and against him, feeling sorry for his failing attempts to help. Support is pretty realistic (well – I assume anyway) for the period and Bolam is a surprise find in a young role.

Overall this is still a good film but, as with anything set in a very realistic setting, it is not as relevant today as it was then. It is still interesting though and has things to say that still generally apply today even if class is less of an issue (now money has less to do with class than it did then). The acting is good, the direction is very down to earth and realistic and the film is still well worth seeing (with that very memorable conclusion to the race being a very memorable moment).

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